Keeping Watch on Prostate Cancer

Almost all prostate cancers grow slowly. That means most men who are diagnosed have time to think about what to do next — and to talk with their doctors about their options. 

If you’re a man facing this decision, one strategy your doctor may discuss is putting off treatment. But why would you wait? After all, we don’t often put off treatment for other cancers.

Your test results may show that your cancer is an early-stage, low-risk tumor. So it may not be life-threatening. In that case, you’ll need to consider the benefits — and the risks — of treating it right away.

Prostate cancer treatments include surgery, radiation and hormone therapies. They can have long-lasting consequences that affect your quality of life. Common side effects include urinary leakage, bowel problems and erectile dysfunction. Waiting may allow you to avoid or delay those problems.

Of course, choosing to wait has its risks too. The cancer may grow or spread.

This is a very personal decision. That’s why talking with your doctor about your specific case — and your options — is so important.

Two ways to wait

If you and your doctor decide to delay treatment, there are two approaches: watchful waiting and active surveillance. While these terms are sometimes confused, they’re not exactly the same.

Watchful waiting. In this case, the goal is not to cure the cancer. But treatments may be offered if the cancer begins to cause problems.

Active surveillance. With this approach, you get regular tests to closely monitor your condition. For instance, you may have blood work, rectal exams and biopsies. If your results show the disease is getting worse, cancer-fighting treatments can be started.

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What to do next

If you have questions about prostate cancer treatment, be sure to talk with your doctor. For a list of questions you might want to ask, go to uhc.com/prostate-checklist.


The information provided here is for general informational purposes only and is not intended to be nor should be construed as medical or other advice. Talk to an appropriate health care professional to determine what may be right for you.

Last reviewed July 2017

© 2017 United HealthCare Services, Inc.